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Willie Wilson accuses Preckwinkle of ‘stealing credit’ for bail reform

Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson and former State Sen. Rickey Hendon during Tuesday's news conference outside the County Building office of Board President Toni Preckwinkle. | Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson and former State Sen. Rickey Hendon during Tuesday's news conference outside the County Building office of Board President Toni Preckwinkle. | Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

County Board President-turned-mayoral challenger Toni Preckwinkle was accused Tuesday of “arrogantly stealing credit” for a bail reform campaign championed by millionaire businessman Willie Wilson.

When Preckwinkle dove head-first last week into the crowded pool of candidates vying to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she highlighted her work to reform the criminal justice system and reduce the population of Cook County jail.

On Tuesday, Wilson stood outside Preckwinkle’s office on the fifth floor of the County Building to label her a “liar.”

Wilson said he’s the one who called attention to the cash bail issue by taking money out of his own pocket to bail poor defendants out of jail and give each of them a few hundred bucks to get on their feet.

And he was the driving force behind the 2017 state law that reformed a cash bail system that penalized poor defendants.

“It’s ironic that Toni Preckwinkle would take credit for anything related to prison reform for the simple fact that, didn’t nothing happen until I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and made it public, went down to Springfield, hired lobbyists as well to help get this thing done,” Wilson said.

“Now, she want to take credit for that. I call her [out for] just straight out a bald-faced blatant lie. I just say it like it is. People lie about stuff. They didn’t do it. It’s a shame. …She’s been in office a long time. We got this bill passed and I’m not even a politician yet. Never held an office…and we got it done.”

Preckwinkle’s soon-to-be retired spokesperson Frank Shuftan countered that his boss has every right to claim credit after “working on criminal justice reform for eight years” as board president.

“After taking office, she convened all of the public safety stakeholders. She worked with the [Illinois] Supreme Court to get progress on that issue. The jail population in the meantime has been reduced by 40 percent,” Shuftan said.

“We have no idea what Mr. Wilson is talking about in terms of her policy positions….I’m just telling you what the record undeniably shows.”

The Reform Bail Act bill was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner during a June, 2017 ceremony at the Chicago Baptist Institute International where Wilson was an invited guest.

It made cash bail unnecessary for those charged with non-violent misdemeanors and low-level felonies that include prostitution, DUI, drug possession and theft and established alternatives, including electronic home monitoring, counseling, curfews and in-person reporting. If a judge sets a cash bond that the defendant can’t meet, a rehearing must be held within seven days.

Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon is a former alderman and state senator who is a longtime Wilson friend and adviser. He accused Preckwinkle of standing on the sidelines while Wilson worked his tail off to get the bill introduced and passed.

“Sheriff Dart supported the bill. State’s Attorney Kim Foxx supported the bill. Chief Justice Tim Evans supported the bill. The only person who did not support the bill at the county level was Toni Preckwinkle. How does she have the unmitigated gall to claim this in her announcement as her crowning achievement?” Hendon said.

“We reached out to her office and they just hee-ed and hawed. I talked to some of her people. I never got a chance to talk to her directly. But we reached out. They never responded.”

Shuftan said Preckwinkle “did not take a position” on the bill because it “did not impact Cook County…It only affected counties outside of Cook. Cook County already had policies and procedures in place that reformed bond procedures.”

Also during Tuesday’s news conference, Wilson sought to portray Preckwinkle as politically gutless and declared her dual role as mayoral candidate and Cook County Democratic Party chairman a “conflict of interest.”

Never mind that former Mayor Richard J. Daley presided over both the city and the party during the Democratic Machine’s salad days before the Shakman decree banned political hiring and firing.

“She wants to get in the city of Chicago and raise taxes on sugar again. That’s pretty much all she’s gonna do,” Wilson said, referring to Preckwinkle’s now repealed tax on sugary soft drinks.

“She didn’t fight for the people when their property taxes went up. She stood silent. She now jump in the race, but didn’t jump in there prior to Rahm Emanuel [dropping out]. These people are beholden to the Democratic Party. I’m running to serve the people….I call ’em cowards. Democrats. Didn’t nobody run until Rahm got out. I’m the only person that stood up to Rahm and will stand up for the people.”